I rise today to speak on the recent annual Apology Breakfast, hosted by Reconciliation SA at the Adelaide Convention Centre on 12 February. This breakfast was held to commemorate the 13th anniversary of the National Apology by the Australian parliament on 13 February 2008 to Australia’s First Nations people and, in particular, the stolen generations.
The breakfast was an extraordinary event attended by approximately 1,300 people. It provided an opportunity to reflect on the period of the stolen generations, to honour the survivors and to learn and understand the current issues that still impact families to this day. I acknowledge that in attendance was the Premier, the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Colton, the Hon. Kyam Maher, the Hon. Tammy Franks and myself representing the parliament.
Opening the breakfast was a Welcome to Country by Major (Moogy) Sumner AM, a Kaurna and Ngarrindjeri elder. Mr Sumner is a renowned artist, performer and cultural ambassador who formed the Talkindjeri Dance Group and has performed around the world. He became a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2014 after dedicating his life to promoting Aboriginal health and welfare, and youth and cultural heritage.
The celebrated singer Frank Yamma then entertained the attendees with a moving performance at both the commencement and conclusion of the function. Frank is a Pitjantjatjara man from Central Australia and is regarded as one of Australia’s most important Indigenous songwriters.
Of special significance at the event was the preview of a soon to be released special feature documentary titled, Unbreakable. This documentary by Nharla Photography’s Colleen Raven-Strangways was commissioned by Reconciliation SA and tells a story of five members of the stolen generations as they recount their stories of trauma—from their darkest days to their triumphs—their tales of success and their reconnecting with family, community and country. Featured in the documentary are the stories of Alex Houthuysen, Jenni Caruso, Jacob Stengle, Aunty Martha Watts and Sonny Morey. Their stories are from two worlds.
At the breakfast, these survivors joined in a panel discussion, led by Colleen, about the documentary and how they felt as they shared their accounts in the making of the documentary. Arabuna elder Aunty Martha Watts, Aboriginal culture broker Alex Houthuysen, Jenni, Jacob and Sonny told of the enduring impact that policies of forced child removal have had on their connection to culture and identity.
Dr Jenni Caruso is an Eastern Arrernte woman who has built an academic career with a commitment to Indigenous education, with the fundamental principle that all Australians should share in the knowledge of Aboriginal history and understand an Aboriginal perspective of Australian history. Jacob Stengle is a highly acclaimed artist who captures images of his Aboriginal heritage, and some of his works were on display at the Apology Breakfast.
Sonny Morey’s life is very moving and has also been captured in his own biography, Sonny. As he was playing in the Todd River as a seven year old in 1952, he was taken and became a member of the stolen generation. Sonny lived in difficult situations in different missionary homes. He was adopted into a family but, unfortunately, personal issues prevailed and it was not until his mother moved with her adopted son to Gawler that Sonny’s life undertook a positive change.
Sonny, a proud Arrernte man, built his own remarkable life and became a legendary footballer in the South Australian National Football League with the Central Districts Football Club. He was a member of the very first team that Central Districts fielded in the SANFL in 1964 and had the honour of being the very first Bulldog footballer to win a kick for that club, going on to play 213 games over a 13-year career.
However, there were still many unanswered questions that lingered for Sonny, predominantly, ‘Why didn’t my mother come looking for me?’ At the time of his abduction as a young child, he felt ignored and abandoned. He was never reunited with his natural mother again. In the writing of his biography, he and his co-authors undertook extensive travel and research into his heritage and his family over a considerable time frame.
This culminated in meeting an elderly retired French nun who, as a missionary, arrived in Central Australia in the 1950s to care for the wellbeing and to provide guidance to the Indigenous population. It was through this meeting with Sister Megali, six decades after he had been taken away, that Sonny got the answer he was hoping for. His mother never stopped looking for him until the day she died. She never gave up. This revelation that his mother had been searching for him her entire life sparked a flood of relief for Sonny, who had struggled for more than 60 years with the belief that he had been abandoned.
While I am yet to witness a full screening of Unbreakable, it will be a documentary that I look forward to with great anticipation. Unbreakable is in the post-production stage and it will be a while until its release and screenings will be determined. The annual Apology Breakfast is a very respectful acknowledgement of the stolen generations. I commend Reconciliation SA for this special event—it was incredibly well done—but more so the participants for demonstrating their courage. I thank them for sharing their stories.